Dara Yen Elerath

The History of My Body

I have given up the act
of kissing. It is a task
most taxing and involves
tongues and the passing
of saliva which calls to mind
the motions of the sea—
motions too unseemly
to be described.
Look, here is a box
of lips I meant to use
before I learned the frisson
between lovers
is a myth meant only
to sell lotion and perfume.
Excuse me please
while I button
this blouse wherein
I keep my breasts.
Excuse me while I close
this drawer between my legs.
Here is the history of my body
in three parts: I was born;
I wore a red dress;
I was not caressed.
Moreover, there is a law that states
no body may touch another
without crushing to death
a handful of innocent cells
and who can find this
desirable? Better it is
to preserve the body.
Take for instance,
this doll made
to depict human beauty.
See how placid
the painted eyes, how
her hands lie perfected,
prayerful in her lap—
is this not something
to be admired?
How often
I have laid myself beneath
the cellophane sheathing,
folded the bell
of my dress
into the sides
of the cardboard box;
how often I have lain here
awaiting the rapture
stricken on her face.



The Lyre

My husband asks forgiveness. I say yes, always yes. When he bends his head I think of unction, the act of anointing a man king with holy oil. Long ago I anointed him. I was his queen but time proved me less than a vassal. I poured his ale into a wooden vessel as he pressed his lips against the neck of another woman. I skimmed the thickening skin from his evening milk. I embraced him and he dragged my body across a grass-thick field. I began to think I was an ox. I believed my only purpose was to haul water. I believed that if I faltered it was his right to flog me. When I wasn’t an animal I was a baker raising a loaf for him, I was a huntsman thrusting a spear in the heart of a boar for him, I was a shoemaker smoothing and burnishing the leather of his boots. I was a whole village for my husband. I knew he was a great man with many needs. I felt how my knees had grown raw from appeasing him; yet, I commended myself on being a good wife. Sometimes, I would query the night, sometimes, I would peer into a dark scrying glass; sometimes, I would lie in bed and wait for him to come home. Now I know a woman can become a stone for her husband to trouble between his palms, now I know a woman’s bones can bend to form a hammer, a nail, a scythe—any tool her husband desires; now I know she can be bound with wire, carved into a lyre, locked in a closet; now I know she may come out only when she is to sing. Now I know my wedding ring is the head of a tuning peg. When he tightens it I scream higher.



Dara Yen Elerath is the author of the forthcoming collection Dark Braid, winner of the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry through BkMk Press. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, AGNI, Plume, Poet Lore, The Los Angeles Review, Superstition Review and elsewhere. She received an MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts and currently resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico.